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JustCuriosity

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173 reviews in total 
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A Powerful Story about A Navy Seal's Transformation to a Woman, 5 July 2014
8/10

Lady Valor was well-received at its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. The unique transformation of Chris to Kristen is eloquently conveyed. The film, which was developed from a profile originally run by CNN's Anderson Cooper, tells the remarkable story of the transformation of a macho gung-ho decorated 20-year Navy Seal from a man's man to a woman. Obviously, it is meant to challenge some of the stereotypes that often exist about the transgendered. The story is certainly well-told with deft touch for humanizing Kristen's struggles. It shows Kristen's often difficult struggle for acceptance with her family and her former military colleagues. I think this story might have been more shocking a few years ago and still will be with certain audiences although at this stage it didn't seem all that hard to believe for the audience at a progressive film festival in a liberal city like Austin, TX. Of course, these aren't the people that need to see this story. This film needs to be viewed by military folks who may still hold negative views of transgendered youth. It also needs to be viewed by young people in some more conservative parts of the country who haven't been exposed to this sort of situation. Unfortunately, I fear that the folks that most need to see this film are ones least likely to view it.

The Normal Heart (2014) (TV)
42 out of 47 people found the following review useful:
Tragic Story about the Early Days of the AIDS Epidemic, 25 May 2014
9/10

The Normal Heart is powerful emotional film about the early days of the AIDS crisis. While the characters are fictionalized, the events and the struggles are all too real. The film provides a valuable history lesson for those too young to remember the politics and emotions of the early days of the AIDS epidemic. The film dramatizes the criminal neglect of both the Reagan administration and Ed Koch's administration in New York City. It shows the complexity of the struggles within the gay community as they tried to come to grips with an epidemic while still trying to challenge a culture that barely acknowledged their existence. In many ways, the film dramatizes just how far we have come and still suggests that we have a long way to go. Some scenes are simply heart-breaking. The film is well-acted particularly by Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Alfred Molina and Julia Roberts. HBO has shown again that it is in the forefront of bringing socially conscious drama to the screen and for that they should be commended. I recommend the film to all who are willing to watch with an open heart.

A Very Sweet Film about Jigsaw Puzzle Competitions, 26 April 2014
8/10

Wicker Kittens was warmly received during its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX. It is a very simple straightforward film about folks who compete in jigsaw puzzle competitions. It falls in line with a series of recent documentaries on American competitions – including Scrabble (Word Wars), Crossword puzzles (Wordplay), and spelling bees (Spellbound). These sorts of films are small pieces of Americana. There is nothing complicated or deep about this formula, but when well-done, it opens a window in a small piece of Americana. Wicker Kittens focused on several teams (made up mostly of older adults) and mostly-based in Minnesota in the lead up a major competition in St. Paul, MN. The competitors are sweet, quirky individuals who just enjoy doing puzzles and have devoted a lot of time to this hobby. I found it particularly entertaining to see how seriously the teams took the competition and the strategizing. For me, this lovely film brought back many childhood memories of sitting around a card table in our living room doing jigsaw puzzles with my Mom.

Premature (2014)
12 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
A Pretty Average Blending of American Pie and Groundhog Day, 26 March 2014
4/10

Premature was reasonably well-received by its audience at its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. I didn't expect too much from it and that's pretty much what I got: not much. Premature is an average film with a few funny scenes, but nothing extraordinary or particularly interesting. There were few scenes that drew low ball humor mostly involving masturbation. This film fulfilled the cliché that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; unfortunately, Dan Beers is not Harold Ramis and the young actors lack the comic genius of Bill Murray. Premature strives to be Goundhog Day for the American Pie generation, but the script lacks the magic that made Groundhog Day a classic that is remembered and beloved.

The young actors tried to make something entertaining of thus highly derivative script and they clearly did their best with very average material. Some of them have talent and may end up being successful. There is really nothing memorable or interesting about this film. If it is distributed it will make for an average, but forgettable date movie. At the Q&A following the film, someone asked if they had been able to show it to Harold Ramis before his death. The director said that they had not, and frankly, I'm glad that Ramis last days weren't wasted on this particular second-rate imitation of one of his best films. Dan Beers should try to write something original next time.

A Touching Autobiographical Film of a Man's Crime and Rehabilitation, 17 March 2014
9/10

Evolution of a Criminal was extremely enthusiastically received in its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. The young director, Darius Clarke Monroe, tells his own story of how a 16-year-old black teenager from a struggling working class family in Houston became robbed a bank to help out his family with its financial struggles. He went to prison for a few years and has since graduated from college and attended NYU's Graduate Film program. In the film, Darius interviews with his family, accomplices, victims at the bank (who were not physically harmed) and the prosecutor to tell the story of what happened to him. He combines the interviews with reenactments of the bank robbery and events around it. The story provides the audience with a powerful portrait of how a bright young man feels compelled to commit a crime to help out his family. We often forget that crime is often motivated by economic struggles and not some deep-seated character flaw.

This film also shows that it is possible to turn one's life around. The most powerful message of this film is that ex-convicts can be rehabilitated and become law-abiding citizens as Darius has. Those folks – especially here in Texas – who want to lock-up criminals and throw away the keys need to see Darius's story. I hope that this film is widely-distributed so that people can learn from Darius's experiences.

Yakona (2014)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A Beautiful, but Shallow, Picture of the San Marcos River, 17 March 2014
5/10

The film Yakona was enthusiastically received by a large crowd at Austin's Paramount Theatre during its world premiere during the SXSW Film Festival. The film is absolutely exquisite in terms of its nature photography and editing. The film was an attempt to capture the beauty and the journey of the San Marcos River its headwaters to the sea. It also is an attempt to capture how at one time native peoples lived in harmony with the river, but they have been displaced by the constant encroachment of the white man and modern civilization. While the filming is beautiful and subtle, the political message seemed quite simplistic and lacking in subtly and sophistication. It seemed to be a simplistic message of preserve the river at all costs against the forces of modernity. Actually, the lack of political and historical sophistication was as stunning as the beautiful photography.

The employment of actors to recreate the native peoples and the colonizers seemed like a strange choice. It created a simplistic mythology of how the natives lived in absolute harmony with nature and the thuggish white men with guns came and destroyed that simple beauty. The issues around development and modernization are so much more complicated than this simplistic narrative suggests.

I know I'm supposed to like a film like this, but the wordless nature of the film left me quite bored and disengaged. Many times without and narrative or explanation it was difficult to figure out just what we were seeing in the imagery. This may be the type of film where some people love it and others hate it. Words and language are some of the most valuable tools that our civilization has developed and the absence of them left very little room for complexity. The beautiful imagery was used as cudgel for a radical environmental agenda. An image can say much that words cannot easily convey, but words can also add remarkable depth and detail that is left unexplained by absence of words and narrative explanation. Still, my review is beautiful, but lacking in substance and depth.

A Fascinating Film about the Start-up World of 3-D Printing, 17 March 2014
8/10

Print the Legend was well-received in its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. While I was expecting a film focused on a new technology, the high tech elements and the implications of the technology were really secondary to exploring the world of high tech start-ups in this new and potentially revolutionary technology. The film did that very well. It focused on interviews with the employees at two startup companies, MakerBot and Form Labs. The film did an excellent job of describing the process of taking a company from being a shoestring startup to being a real company and the many bumps that the founders and employees hit along the way. The interviews are well- filmed and really showed the fascinating interactions between personalities and businesses including many of the founders were pushed out by intra-personal conflicts.

Although not mentioned directly in the film directly, an important issue raised in the Q&A was the degree to which the startups were overwhelming populated by white males. The subjects from the film that attended the screening indicated that they were concerned about the issue and were attempting to address it.

The inclusion of the creepy Austin-based anarchist Cody Wilson who caused an international controversy in 2012 by printing 3D guns added an interesting subplot – and some local color for the Austin audience. Wilson's bizarre efforts to print weapons raised serious questions about the ethical limits of the technology and forced the companies to seriously consider – perhaps for the first time – the moral implications of the technology were creating. This was an important element of the film, because it did move it beyond the metrics of success and profit into the realm of considering the societal impact of their work. Oddly, while Wilson was present at the post-screening Q&A, no one in the audience chose to ask him any questions. Perhaps, they just thought he wasn't worth engaging.

A Stunning Film on the Impact that BP Oil Spill has had on the Gulf Coast, 17 March 2014
10/10

The Great Invisible was enthusiastically received at its World Premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. This film is a powerful indictment of the corporate greed and corruption of BP, Transocean and Halliburton. If "Corporations are People" (as we have been told), than why aren't these corporations in prison? While this event made headlines in 2010, it has quickly receded from public consciousness (much as Hurricane Katrina in the same region did after 2005). This beautifully-filmed, eloquent presentation puts human faces on this environmental disaster. While it provides some political context, The Great Invisible mainly focuses on the human stories of the families of the oil rig workers who were killed and the local fishermen who lost their livelihoods. It shows the continuing impact that this event is still having and deconstructs the myth (presented in BP TV commercials) that the Gulf coast has now completely recovered.

BP and the other companies have provided some compensation, but they have not come close to repairing the massive environmental and human damage that their obscene negligence has inflicted on the Gulf coast. This film is a beautiful tribute to all those that have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of this disaster.

Some of the best contrasts are drawn from the scenes where we see oil executives sitting around fancy hotels drinking whiskey and smoking cigars while they complain about government regulation and the other barriers their industry faces. Then the film contrasts this with the injured oil workers and struggling fisherman who have had their lives devastated as a result of the executives careless negligence. The contrast is striking.

This film needs to be widely viewed by many Americans around the country for whom this tragedy has been nearly forgotten. I hope that film is widely distributed as a part of a process of beginning to hold the corporate robber barons to account. Right now, as the title suggests the long-term impact of the oil spill has become invisible. Perhaps, this film will help lift that cloak of invisibility.

19 out of 28 people found the following review useful:
Excellent Biopic on an important Civil Rights and Labor Leader, 15 March 2014
9/10

Cesar Chavez was very warmly received during its North American Premiere at Austin's SXSW Film where it won one of the audience awards. Director Diego Luna has done an excellent job in bringing this important and often poorly understood civil right and labor leader to life for a new generation. Michael Pena delivers his best acting performance to date as he really seems to capture the essence of Chavez. The film is reminiscent of other films about leading social organizers such as Milk which is also set in California in about the same time period. The film focuses on the major events of his organizing including the boycott of grapes which eventually forced the grape growers to reach an agreement with the United Farm Workers (UFW). The film also emphasizes his dedication to the cause of non-violence and his efforts to work across ethnic lines. While all such films are imperfect vehicles for encapsulating an individual's life, I felt this one did solid job of capturing the spirit of Cesar Chavez. It also showed the difficulties his work caused for his family. I think this film could be very valuable as an educational tool for teaching young people about the legacy of Cesar Chavez. I hope that it is gains some popularity with mainstream audiences.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A Provocative Film about the Radical Idealistic Activists Fighting the Keystone XL Pipeline, 15 March 2014
7/10

Above All Else was warmly-received at its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. The film offers a powerful indictment of the dangers and negative impact of the construction of this pipeline. However, rather than dealing with some of the realistic political strategies that could be used to fight the construction of the pipeline, the film focuses in on some of the more idealistic radical – and frankly naive – environmental activists who think they can stop the pipeline construction through East Texas by sitting on the top of trees, chaining themselves to trucks, and crawling into pipelines. Their idealism is admirable, but they need some lessons in practical politics. Their whole quest is so clearly doomed from the start that it makes very little political sense. The landowners who initially host themselves eventually give up under legal pressure from TransCanada and the local sheriff. The film spends too much time on the quixotic efforts of the activists instead of focusing on the more practical efforts to organize much larger groups of people online and across the country. Massive campaigns of civil disobedience combined with legislative action to change the eminent domain laws and influence the Congress and the President would be much more useful. Perhaps, the film footage wouldn't be as interesting as kids building tree houses, but it would be a more practical way to advance their cause. In general, the film went on a bit too long with repetitive footage that could have been edited down by 15-30 minutes. Activists, including film makers, who seek to achieve social change should focus on the practical politics rather than Utopian idealism. It is easy to cheer for young idealistic activists fight an evil corporation, but it is a waste of time and effort when they adopt ineffective and wasteful strategies like these. I wish the film makers also tried to focus on strategies that stood a chance in fighting the pipeline and advancing the larger struggle to prevent climate change.


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